Scientists Identify Sarcasm Region of Brain

Researchers Pinpoint Brain’s Sarcasm Sensor (Forbes)

Oh yeah, right!

No, it’s true — many of you don’t go a day without dishing out several doses of sarcasm. But some brain-damaged people can’t comprehend sarcasm, and Israeli researchers think it’s because a specific brain region has gone dark.

The region, according to the researchers, handles the task of detecting hidden meaning, a crucial component of sarcasm. If that part of the brain is out of commission, the irony doesn’t come through, the scientists report in the May issue of Neuropsychology.

“People with prefrontal brain damage suffer from difficulties in understanding other people’s mental states, and they lack empathy,” said study co-author Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a researcher at the University of Haifa. “Therefore, they can’t understand what the speaker really is talking about, and get only the literal meaning.”

The findings, Shamay-Tsoory said, could help rehabilitation centers do a better job of helping brain-damaged patients adjust to the world and understand other people.


All the subjects [of the experiment] understood the sarcasm except for those with damage to the prefrontal area, which is above the eye sockets and behind the forehead. And among those, people with damage to a specific area known as the ventromedial area had the most trouble deciphering sarcasm.

The researchers think lesions in several parts of the brain can contribute to an inability to understand sarcasm. But, they wrote, this particular area is important because it draws on your innate recognition of the emotions of other people — empathy — and past experiences to comprehend a speaker’s intentions.

Interesting. I had always thought that sarcasm required a smart ass, not a big brain, but I guess I was wrong.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, Uncategorized
Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. Kathy K says:

    I think that sort of damage may be more widespread than one would expect.

    (I’ve been adding notes that say something like ‘this is sarcasm’ for years, because too many just don’t get it. And I’ve been doing the verbal equivalent even longer… ).

  2. McGehee says:

    “above the eye sockets and behind the forehead”

    I wonder if anyone’s determined whether there’s a correlation between sarcasm and a tendency to sinus headaches. If not, I’ll volunteer as a test subject.

    Yeah, like that’ll ever happen. (rubs forehead)